Littleferry Lithics

01 October 2012

News Type:
Find of the Month

The site of Littleferry near Golspie has long been important for transport. However, it was also a prolific lithic working site for millennia, with a large number of worked objects and debris found. These pictures show only some of the finds on display in Dunrobin Castle Museum. Finds include Neolithic leaf-shaped and Bronze Age barbed-and-tanged arrowheads, scrapers and knives, most made from local materials. The objects, most found in the nineteenth century, were widely dispersed as well. The National Museum in Edinburgh has over a thousand objects, with over 350 Neolithic arrowheads alone. There is at least one microlith from the Mesolithic period (pers. comm.. Alan Saville), and a detailed analysis of the remains might reveal more. However, the overriding impression is of a site which was used extensively for millennia in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The site – or sites – must have been extensive. L Tait, writing in the 1870s, notes that there were many shell mounds to be found between the Meikle and Littleferry sites, but chiefly around Littleferry. This concentration is probably due to good raw materials, and a good location for trading onwards.

In addition to the lithic material, at least one faience bead was found on the site, now on display in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Faience beads date to the Bronze Age and were high status glass-like objects. Faience was probably made at Culbin Sands near Nairn, as well as Luce Sands in southwest Scotland, both areas which also have extensive lithic working remains. A rough out for making a stone axe (now in Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology) was also found in the Littleferry area, as well as a butt end of another axe said to be at Dunrobin Castle Museum. The later importance of the site is shown by several Pictish stones from the area. The strategic location resulted in a community important into the 19th century, with icehouses, girnels (storehouses), and other buildings surviving.

The extensive lithic collection at Littleferry would undoubtedly repay closer examination!

Tait, L. 1866-8. 'Notes on the shell mounds, hut-circles, and kistvaans of Sutherlands', Procedings of the Society of Antiquaries of  Scotland, Vol. 7 , p.525-32. Also available on-line.

letter by Thomas Stevenson, detailing finds from Littleferry in 1881

Sheridan, Alison and Shortland, Andrew 2004. ‘...beads which have given rise to so much dogmatism, controversy and rash specultion’: faience in early Bronze Age Britain and Ireland,’ in Ian A.G. Shepherd and Gordon J. Barclay (eds)., Scotland in Ancient Europe. The Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of Scotland in their European Context (Edinburgh), pp. 263-279.

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